Should I podcast my fiction for free?

by P.G. Holyfield

Five years ago the question was, “Should I podcast my fiction for free? Will it hurt my chances of getting published?” But with the success of writers such as Scott Sigler, Philippa Ballantine, and Nathan Lowell, that question has become nearly moot. When I went to my publisher I was able to say “The most recent episode of my podcast novel has 18,000 downloads so far.” My novel was published by a small yet respected fantasy/sci-fi publisher, but even larger publishers have begun to admit that an unknown writer that has established himself or herself with an online following might be worthy of consideration. And the saying that used to be “EVEN THOUGH I’ve given it away for free” is now “BECAUSE I’ve given it away for free.”

So as we are now in the time of bloggers getting big book deals and publishers taking chances on pre-blogged or podcasted fiction, the question isn’t “Should I?” but “How do I do this the right way?” Because it’s not that you are trying to build “an audience,” but that you are building a relationship with your readers/listeners. Especially for those that are reading their own words, you are creating a connection to your audience that cannot be matched by any other medium. Your audience hears your voice and if you are telling a good story, your listeners begin to care about you in ways that most first time authors publishing traditionally cannot leverage. In cultivating that “horde” that we hope to inspire, here are some things to think about:

  • Website presence – Some people have used sites like Libsyn.com to host their podcasts, but a great looking personal website that has content in addition to the audio podcast is vital for audience engagement.
  • Release Schedule – Most podcast authors use a serialized release schedule and do not release the entire story at once. Releasing consistently (weekly works well) creates an ‘event’ atmosphere around your podcast. Yes, there are many who won’t start listening to a podcast novel until the author has completed it, because a) they want to make sure the author finishes the audiobook/podiobook and b) they want to mainline the entire novel and not wait a week for the next 30-45 minutes of your story. But for those that get hooked and wait patiently (or in some cases, impatiently), these people have a tendency to become rabid fans that will proselytize your work better than you ever can.
  • Make friends and influence… yeah, you know – Most podcasters use the first three to five minutes of each podcast episode to talk to their listeners. Depending on how open you are with your audience, they become invested not only in your story but in your life and your struggle to become a published author.
  • Podiobooks.com – Having your own website is vital, but just as important is having a “story only” version of your podiobook on Podiobooks.com. Consumers of podcast fiction know this is the place to go for good stories, and many that will never find your website will find your book here.
  • Short story podcast fiction – do you have short stories that can also be podcast? There are podcasts such as Escape Pod that are paying markets, and if you can get a short story on one of these outlets, you can drive people to your podcast novel.
  • Audiobook vs. Audio Drama – Most podcast novels are done as straight reads, such as what you find on Audible.com. But could your story work as more of an audio drama, with a full voice cast, music, sound effects, etc.? It doesn’t take an expert to see that this would cause an exponential increase in the time you would spend creating your podcast, but for those that have tackled that beast (like myself), if you do it well, you create another reason for people to give your podcast a chance.

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